Sunak accused of ‘complete re-hash’ of pothole announcement

The Prime Minister sought to focus on fixing Britain’s roads as he faced questions over whether he was out of touch as he campaigned in Darlington.

Sam Blewett
Friday 31 March 2023 16:05 BST
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with Darlington Council leader Jonathan Dulston (far left), Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen (far right) and Darlington MP Peter Gibson (second from left) in Firth Moor during a visit to Darlington, County Durham where he discussed local issues and how money announced in this year’s budget would be spent on fixing the region’s roads and repairing potholes (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with Darlington Council leader Jonathan Dulston (far left), Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen (far right) and Darlington MP Peter Gibson (second from left) in Firth Moor during a visit to Darlington, County Durham where he discussed local issues and how money announced in this year’s budget would be spent on fixing the region’s roads and repairing potholes (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Rishi Sunak’s opponents have accused him of deploying a “complete re-hash” of a year-old pothole crackdown as he campaigns for the May elections.

The Prime Minister sought to focus on fixing Britain’s ailing roads as he faced questions over whether he was out of touch as he visited Darlington on Friday.

“Today we’re announcing more money for potholes,” he said as he was photographed inspecting a road defect during the visit to the North East while campaigning for the Tories.

Downing Street confirmed there was no new money on top of the £200 million in the Budget two weeks ago.

The Prime Minister was also highlighting new regulations, coming into force on Saturday, that will see utility companies penalised for leaving streets in poor condition.

Mr Sunak said: “There’ll be more fines, more inspections, that’s also going to help. We want to make sure it’s easy for people to get around.”

The “performance-based inspections regime” he was referring to was announced in May last year.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh, accused the Government of “playing catch up after its own failures have left UK roads crumbling”.

“In 2021 the Prime Minister vowed to make potholes a thing of the past, but his decisions have left millions of them on our roads,” the Labour MP said.

“This is too little too late for the communities across the country paying the price for his broken promises.”

Lib Dem local Government spokeswoman Helen Morgan said the announcement “has more holes in it than Britain’s roads”.

“This is nothing new and just a complete re-hash. The blunt truth is the Government has starved councils of funding to fix roads, and this latest sticking plaster is too little too late,” she said.

“Conservative run rural councils have let their roads fall apart, causing damage to cars across the country. Rishi Sunak should visit those areas to see the problem for himself.”

Mr Sunak also faced questions over reports his heated pool uses so much energy that the local electricity network had to be upgraded.

Pressed by local broadcasters on whether that makes him out of touch, the Prime Minister insisted he had taxed the windfall profits of oil companies to ease energy bills.

“People can make up their own minds if that support is sufficient enough,” he added, describing the support the Government provided as “enormous”.

“I want people to feel better off, I want to put more money in their pockets, we’re only going to be able to do that if we get inflation down.”

Last week Mr Sunak released a summary of his tax return, showing he earned around £4.8 million over the last three years.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer insisted his pledge for the May 4 elections that he would have frozen council tax bills if he was in power is “not hypothetical”.

The Labour leader has not committed to freezing council tax in the future if he can form a Labour government after the next general election, expected next year.

The Conservatives said that means the pledge “isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”, pointing to Labour councils having increased their tax in line with others.

Defending his pledge, Sir Keir told broadcasters during a campaign visit to Plymouth that the Tories could go forward with the policy to ease the cost-of-living crisis.

“Now, it’s not hypothetical, because the money we would use is the profits from oil and gas companies, we would tax that, there’s £10 billion there,” he said.

“The Government could – just as they stole the idea of an energy price freeze from us – they could steal this and we could move all this in the next few weeks.

“Because if the Government said we’ll match Labour and have a freeze on council tax for the next year, we would obviously vote for it. The money is available. And if the Government was serious about dealing with the cost of living, they would take this Labour idea and run with it.”

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